Israel Trip Recap: Day Ten

I've been eagerly anticipating writing this post, y'all!  Why? Because I finally get to share with you the single most favorite moment from our trip to Israel! And it happened on the very last day of touring! And after you read this recap, you'll see why Ami and Pastor John saved the absolute best place for last!

Day ten began with Pastor John approaching us during breakfast and inviting us to join him and Miss Linda for dinner that evening. He had invited a local Pastor friend in Jerusalem and his wife out to the hotel for dinner, and he wanted to introduce us to them.  After teasing him and telling him how unsure I was about eating a meal with him, we finally accepted his invitation!  Ha!  Pastor David and Kathy (from Colorado) were sitting with us at breakfast and Pastor invited them to dinner as well. 

So, after devouring and rushing through breakfast... we couldn't wait to get on the bus to start our day of touring!  Even though it was our last full day tour in Israel, we knew where we were headed and the excitement was building!  Yes, we were headed to the Garden Tomb!  Our day would begin with a tour of the garden, including Golgotha, (known as Calvary, or the place of the skull) and also with a group communion service.  Afterwards, we would tour the town of John the Baptist and the house of Caiaphas.

Once we were all seated on the bus and making our way across town, Pastor John taught us his version of an old song, based on Psalm 147:2...

The Lord is building Jerusalem
The Lord is building Jerusalem
Gathering together the outcasts of Israel
Binding up their wounds, setting captives free...
The Lord is building, the Lord is building

And before we realized it, we had arrived at our destination! Now, even though the Garden Tomb is located right next to a very busy bus terminal, it's an extremely quiet and peaceful spot just outside the city walls near the Damascus Gate. It is maintained beautifully and feels quite secluded. A Christian, non-denominational charitable trust based out of the United Kingdom maintains the property and hosts the garden tours. We were quickly introduced to our gentleman-ly guide, who had the loveliest and most proper British accent! 

First, we were led to the area known as Golgotha.  This area sits near the busy main road that leads to Jericho and is also known historically as an execution site during the time of Christ.  And yes, you can still actually see the skull in the hill.  Look closely, but it's not hard to find...

Here's another shot... a photo of a photo of "skull hill"...

In Aramaic, it translates as "place of the skull".

Okay... try again... now can you see it?

Golgotha. (read Matthew 27:33)

Since discovered in 1842, this is the place many believe to be the site where Jesus was crucified.  This is my personal belief as well.

Next, the body of Jesus would have been carried the length of the garden where it was then placed in a new, rich man's tomb.  (begin reading Matthew chapter 27, starting at verse 57)

Now 2,000 years ago, this same garden housed an active wine press and cistern. (That's why in John 19:41, it is referred to as a garden.) And right here... this is the place... the tomb where many believe (including myself) that the body of Jesus was placed and then later resurrected from the dead.  

Again, if you are looking for absolute 100% proof... you won't find it. But as our garden guide said, "Where Jesus died and rose again isn't what's truly important.  Why He did it... well that's what really counts!"  Amen and amen!  And y'all... my spirit was undoubtedly doing flip-flops and felt SO flooded with peace, joy and love when I saw that beautiful tomb!  If this wasn't the actual place where it all happened... you were gonna have a really hard time convincing me otherwise! *wink*

Now y'all, as I stood in line to enter the tomb... my stomach suddenly had butterflies!  I was so excited but also a tiny bit anxious... I didn't know what I was about to see or how I would even react once I climbed inside.  Then, right before it was my turn to enter... I had this strange urging in my spirit that I should cover my head with my scarf.  I knew it wasn't mandatory or necessary... but I felt a prompting to do it.  And so I did... and right as I stepped inside, Mr. Atchley quietly called to me to snap a photo...

And once I climbed inside the tomb... I started to sob deeply.  The overwhelming feeling like I was actually standing on holy ground... His presence and peace were so real in that moment.  To finally see with my very own eyes a cold slab of stone... where the body of my precious King was once laid to rest... my sin had placed Him there... only now to look upon the spot and see... it was empty.  Just as I've been told my whole life and just as I knew I would find it!  EMPTY!!!  

The "Jesus experience" of a lifetime...

This Jew named Jesus... Yeshua, the Son of God... Jesus, my Savior and the one true Messiah... He was no longer there... because on the third day, He came alive, rose up from the dead and left that tomb forever and ever.  

The only words I could manage to whisper from my mouth, over and over again through my streaming tears were "thank you Jesus, oh thank you... thank you".  The enormity of His sacrifice... His shed blood that saved my life and the exhilarating reality of His resurrection were just too much for my feeble mouth to utter anything else other than words of thankfulness. He did that for me... He died for ME... and then He defeated death, hell and the grave... all for me(And for you, and for all those who believe in Him!)  

What more was there to say, y'all?  After spending a few extra minutes looking around inside, I turned around and walked out of that dark tomb.  And Jesus?  Well, He left that tomb with me! Because the grave couldn't hold Him and because... HE LIVES!!! Yes indeed... He lives within my heart and goes everywhere with me! <3

That's MY King!!!

Now lo and behold... what did I see once I exited the tomb?  Well it was some of our friends from Nigeria!!!  Woohoo!  And let me tell you somethin' y'all, those folks know how to worship and throw a big ole Jesus party!  They began to loudly sing songs to the Lord and shout and dance and clap... and I soaked in every little drop of their praise!  Y'all, to actually stand IN the empty Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, and have the unbelievable opportunity to raise my hands in worship and sing praises to my King... well darlin's, it changed my DNA!!!  I knew right then, more than EVER before, that I had been brought to Israel for such a time as this!!!

After I did my fair share of worshipping and shoutin' all my makeup off... whew, I was ready to find the rest of the group for some quiet and time of reflection!

Pastor John led our group over to a covered pavilion area in the garden and we used the opportunity to worship, take communion together and celebrate the NEW covenant! Amen! And bless Ami's heart, he had purchased a big bag full of olive wood communion cups at Gianni's the day before... and after we finished taking communion using those beautiful cups, he told us to keep them as gifts! (Do y'all see why we loved Ami to pieces?  He was so sweet and thoughtful to think of purchasing such special & meaningful souvenirs for us!) 

We ended our time at the Garden Tomb in their lovely gift shop, where Mr. A and I purchased several gifts for our friends, family and neighbors back in Texas.

Next up, we took a rather long bus ride to the town of John the Baptist. (Ein Karem)  The ride was rather curvy and bumpy and I didn't know about this ahead of time, so I was in desperate need of dramamine.  And whoops, I didn't have any left!  Once we arrived at the village and everyone unloaded... Mr. Atchley carefully helped me and my wobbly legs off the bus.  Luckily, one of the sweet gals in our group had extra dramamine in her purse, and I quickly swallowed several of them. (I can't even remember how many pills I took; I was just desperate to feel better!) As the group headed off to explore and see the village, I knew my legs were not going to keep me moving.  Pastor John was so sweet and concerned; he has a daughter that struggles with motion sickness as well, so he understood how I felt and offered for me to join him and Miss Linda at a local cafe to rest and have something to drink.

Pastor John found a lovely little table outside of a cafe in the shade for us to sit at, but unfortunately I spent the majority of time inside the cafe in the restroom... ya' know, emptying my stomach of the delicious Israeli breakfast I had eaten earlier in the day.  Finally, when there was nothing left to get rid of... I applied wet paper towels to my face and begged a plastic bag off one of the waitresses to stash inside my purse.  I had been teasing Pastor John throughout our whole trip and telling him I may finally get a chance to throw up on him while we were in Israel, but I didn't actually want to do it!  He would never let me live it down, y'all! *wink*  Luckily, we made it out of there without any issues!

(But unfortunately, we don't have any photos of the village, because Mr. Atchley and our camera opted to stay with me rather than join the group.)

Now after we left Ein Karem, Ami had made arrangements for us to eat lunch at this lovely restaurant in Jerusalem called "Olive & Fish".  Our meal was amazing!  I managed to eat a few bites of pita even though my stomach was still doing somersaults.  They served us a chicken dish that apparently was so delicious, that folks at our table even asked the chef for the recipe!  And, he was happy to oblige and wrote it down for the group!  As we were leaving the restaurant, I saw a truck off in the distance with a picture of Elvis on it, and I knew I had to snap a photo!  Ha!

I spotted Elvis in Jerusalem, y'all!

Next, we headed over to the house of Caiaphas, also known as St. Peter in Gallicantu.  Halfway through the tour, my stomach started to act crazy again, so I excused myself to go and sit near the bathrooms.  But Mr. Atchley took plenty of photos in my absence!

This is thought to be the location where Peter denied the Lord.

Read Psalm 88...

A sculpture of Jesus; many believe he waited in the bottom of this pit 
to stand trial before Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin and ultimately, Pilate.

The hole in the stone which leads to the pit (or dungeon) below.

Pastor John (in the purple shirt), reading Psalm 88 from the bottom of the pit.

Once the group left the church and came back outside, Mr. A snapped this photo of me waiting at the top of the hill for everyone.

Who cares that I was sick???  I WAS IN JERUSALEM!!!  Ha!

And by the way, look at these beautiful views of the city!  

While we were standing outside visiting and enjoying our last moments of the tour, I heard the whizz of a rock go flying right past my ear.  And then another, and another.  I turned around to see Mr. Atchley and Amy's boys running over to the railing and looking down only to find some young boys who were throwing rocks at our group and trying to hit us! (Now it's just MY observation, but I don't think those were little Jewish fellas.  But in all fairness, it's not like they told us otherwise and we didn't take the time to ask.)  Either way, they had some nerve to do such a thing to a group of innocent tourists standing near a church!

Mr. Atchley quickly pulled out his camera to take photos of the boys, thinking it would scare them enough to make them stop, but it didn't work!  If anything, they threw those rocks even harder!  So, my husband did what any good Texan man would do... he made a universal "gesture" with his hand (not the crude one y'all are thinking of, I promise)... and when they saw it, they actually stopped throwing rocks at us. Ha!  Goodness gracious, y'all.  I'm not sure I approved of his "cowboy" method, but at least no one from our group got hit.

Our sweet Geora finally drove us back to the hotel, where I managed to squeeze in a quick little nap back in our room before dinner.  We then made it down to the restaurant for dinner just in time to find Pastor John's table.  He introduced Mr. Atchley and I to the senior pastors of King of Kings Community Church in Jerusalem, Wayne and Ann Hilsden.  They have the largest Christian/Messianic congregation in all of Jerusalem.  And it was a pleasure meeting and talking with them, hearing stories about their ministry and awesome prayer tower in Jerusalem... and of course laughing at all of Pastor John's crazy old tales! (I may or may not have been slightly over-medicated throughout dinner so the details are kinda fuzzy.)

We ended the day happy but totally and completely exhausted and ready for bed... but also incredibly sad that our trip to Israel was just about to end.  We had only one more day in Israel... and it was a free day to go see and do whatever we liked... but first, we desperately needed sleep.

Up next:  Come back to read about our final day in Jerusalem.  We slept in!  We ate!  We shopped!  We ate and shopped some more! We also discovered the world's best bagel!  And then, we wrapped up our precious time in Israel with a memorable farewell banquet. And finally, we ended the last couple hours of our day with the quietest ride of our lives back to the airport in Tel Aviv, followed by crying buckets and buckets of tears... but many promises to return!

"Next year in Jerusalem!"

(Let it be, Lord!  Oh... let it be!!!)


Israel Trip Recap: Day Nine

This was our ninth day in Israel, y'all.  Goodness.  How was it that at certain moments of our trip, it felt like time was standing still and yet other moments, it felt like the time was flying by faster than it should?!?!  I'll never understand... I guess it's one of those marvelous mysteries that only God can explain. 

So, yet again... breakfast in Israel is the bomb.dot.com!!!  On this beautiful morning, I once again filled up on eggs, cheese, granola, yummy Israeli coffee and of course... my beloved rugelach. (aka...the chocolate croissant!)  May God bless the folks that baked those delicious treats fresh every morning just for me.  Oh wait, I was supposed to share those?!?!?  #oops

Another delicious Israeli breakfast!  

Well, this day began even more spectacular than most, because after breakfast, we went to see the hotel Jeweler.  That's right. HELLO!!!  I was suddenly wide awake, folks!  Hehe.  Creations Jewelry has been located inside this hotel for over 30 years, and Pastor John told James (the owner) that he was telling all of our tour group to shop until we dropped in his store.  Y'all know, I couldn't let Pastor John down... no sirree!  I'm always obedient to the advice of my Pastor! *wink*  So, under the annoying watchful eye of my husband... I placed an order for 5 custom necklaces and bought a few other pieces that I needed.  In this case, the whole "less is more" philosophy went flying out the window. 

Now y'all try not to don't judge my shopping habits!  Mr. Atchley spent a few shekels in Jerusalem, too... but he made a major purchase on an Israeli-made gun before we left the states... so I promise... I was only shopping to catch up with him! (That's my story and I'm stickin' to it!)  

After we loaded up on the bus, Pastor read Psalm 125 to us.  Here is the portion that really captivated me:

"Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people
both now and forevermore...
Peace be on Israel."      

As we departed the hotel, Ami decided to teach us another word to use to say "good morning" in Hebrew... Boker Orr!  He said it translates as "delightful morning"... and indeed, it was! 

Our very first stop was at the Garden of Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives.  

Did you know Gethsemane means "Garden of the Oil/Olive Press"? It sure does!  Take a look at these amazing 2,000 year-old olive trees, dating all the way back to the time of Jesus:

They surround the oldest trees with fence to keep folks from
tearing off pieces to take home as souvenirs!

We also spent some time inside the Church of All Nations, viewing and praying at the Rock of Agony.  This is the spot where many believe that Jesus prayed and sweat blood right before his betrayal took place. 

After we left and stepped outside the church, we got our very first glance of the Eastern Gate! (also called the Golden Gate) Scripture says that only the Messiah will enter back through that gate, and it has been sealed up for almost 500 years! A Muslim cemetery is now at the base of the entrance to the Eastern Gate; Muslims sealed this gate in the year 1541 thinking that it will block the Messiah from re-entering.  (read Ezekiel 44 prophecy)  If y'all only knew how many times throughout history of the different armies and terrorists that have tried to open the Eastern Gate... and some have come awfully close to succeeding... only for the Divine Hand of God to intercede and keep it remaining tightly closed.  Now if that won't give ya' goosebumps, I don't know what will! Can I get an amen?!? 

The beautiful and tightly sealed Eastern Gate!

Next, our sweet bus driver Geora drove us to the top of the Mount of Olives for a fantastic panoramic view of the Kidron Valley and Jerusalem.  You can also see the wall and the Dome of the Rock. Now while we were busy trying to get as many photographs as possible, we had to also stay on high alert because this area is known for its fierce pickpockets.  I mean y'all... it was like a 3-ring circus up there!  There were street vendors trying to sell us things like maps and postcards,  several teenage boys stalking our handbags and pockets like vultures,  and at the same time... Ami was also motioning for us all to stay together... he was trying his best to get us all assembled to pose for our group picture.  I was so stressed out because this was a level of crazy I had never experienced before.  And hey... I'M FAIRLY CRAZY as it is!  Still, this was a new level of cray-cray even for me!  But y'all know what? Our big group photo turned out perfectly!  For real, I have no idea how that perfection was achieved, because it was absolute chaos all around us!  

Our tour group!  Can you find Mr. Atchley and I?
Hint: look for the lone photo bomber! 

And seriously... look at that view of the Old City and the Dome of the Rock!  It's amazing that such a small area in Jerusalem is such a huge source of controversy.  But now that I've been there personally... I truly understand it.  Jerusalem, especially that one square mile of the Old City... well, it's special.  If you ever get the chance to go there, you too will understand why.  And you will finally understand why this place known as the Holy Land will always be full of fighting and conflict.  Well... not always. You see, I already know how the story ends.  And it is for that reason, dear friends, that I pray daily for the peace of Jerusalem.  Because in the very end, I know the One who wins the battle.  Hallelujah!

I am actually in Jerusalem!!!!!!! Eeek!!!

After some religious and political discussions, Ami led us to the long and winding path down the Mount of Olives...  and then we found ourselves starting our walk back UP to the Old City.  This local fella even walked alongside us for a bit... yes, he was a pickpocket too, believe it or not!

Straight out of the Bible, y'all.
Well, other than the fact that he's a known pickpocket
and he was wearing Nike's under his tunic!  Ha!

When we finally completed the long walk back UP to the gate to re-enter the Old City, my feet were screamin'.  This tour would end up being the most walking we did in a single day on our entire trip.  And... I just so happened to leave my ugly walking shoes in the hotel room that morning, whoopsie!  (At least I was wearing cute ballet flats for the group photo!)  Right before we entered the Old City through the Lion's Gate, which is the beginning of the walk on the Via Dolorosa (or Way of Suffering) to visit the stations of the cross, Mr. A had to snap this pic of local law enforcement.  They are bad to the bone!

He made me promise to put this on the blog!
Note the metal riot guard on the windshield!  Yikes!

Now I just want to be honest with y'all... a trip to Israel is totally life-changing.  If you allow it to all sink in... you won't go home the same person that you were when you arrived.  A trip to Israel will be as spectacular as you let it be.  There are a lot of places to visit... some are purely historic, some are considered "holy" in nature... and others are just places that claim to be things they really aren't.  It's up to each individual to discern in their spirit what feels authentic and what doesn't.  And each person may have a different feeling or conclusion that they will walk away with.  So with that being said, the rest of our sight-seeing on this particular day I will lovingly refer to as "old church overload".  And I mean absolutely no disrespect... but that's exactly what it was.  A day full of visiting Roman Catholic churches and many other places where folks believe that certain holy or spiritual moments happened, but there isn't actually proof.  And... in full disclosure, I gotta tell ya'... most of those places, I felt absolutely nothin' stir up and move in my spirit. Zilch, zip, nada.  And not to get ahead of myself, but at the end of the day, one specific church in particular claims some BIG DEAL HOLY & RELIGIOUS stuff y'all... well, it just turned me off in the worst possible way.  And trust me, I wasn't the only one in our group that was sensing it was more about the religious importance and less about the spiritual aspects.  So, all I could do was trust that the Holy Spirit was leading me and helping me to discern what I was seeing and feeling. But hey, to each his own.  There may have been others there that thoroughly enjoyed it.  I just wasn't one of them.

But, I never lost sight of the fact that I WAS IN ISRAEL!!!  Walking on the same streets and visiting the same places where my Savior King walked!  So, when Ami took us to the Muslim Quarter to view the Pool of Bethesda (read John chapter 5) and retold the story of the lame man that was healed by Jesus... I may have had a dance party right inside my heart!  And apparently... as evidenced by the photo below... I was the only one!  Bahaha!  It appears I was paying absolutely no attention to the actual pool that everyone else was focused on because I was busy smiling up at God and raising my hand and showing Him... 

I'm the one in the blue shirt... hehe.

"I'm here, God... in Jerusalem... your beautiful city!!!  I know you see me!  Helloooooooo!!!!!!"  I know... I'm quirky!     

Now unfortunately, my unique and special moment was ruined by the very loud and annoying Muslim call to prayer from the nearby mosque.  And look, I might as well confess... I actually covered my ears because I didn't want to hear it.  The call to prayer (which is announced five times per day) made me angry and it sounds totally creepy and... well, I'll just leave it at that.

(Don't bother leaving me any nasty comments regarding my thoughts on this matter.  I stand firm in my opinion.)

And here's a photo of the pools, if that sorta thing interests ya':

So, next up... we stopped for lunch at the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. After a short tour through the building, we were led out to an open rooftop courtyard... and much to our surprise, there were fantastic views of the city!  

They even had little container gardens growing on their roof!
Gorgeous succulents!

They began serving us lunch as we made our way indoors, and we were tickled to death when our beloved tour guide, sweet Ami, asked if he could eat lunch with us at our table. (Amy, the boys, Mr. Atchley and I)  Throughout lunch, we had the best time getting to know more about his personal life, his family and hobbies... and where HE likes to go on vacation!  (Btw... it's Italy!  Who knew?!?!) It was an all-around awesome, laughter-filled, enjoyable lunch! Though I believe something must have gotten lost in translation, because I swear he proposed marriage to Amy at one point during lunch?!?!  BAHAHA!

After our delicious and relaxing lunch, we made our way back down to the street so we could visit each station of the cross as we walked along the Via Dolorosa.  It was a pretty interesting walk!

Remember, most signs in Israel are posted in Hebrew, Arabic and English.
Station 4: Jesus with his mother, Mary.

Along our walk, we also saw plenty of these types of signs posted as well:

The last stations of the cross end up at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  This is the place where many people believe the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus took place.  I am not one of those people that share in that theory; it is my belief that the area near the Garden Tomb (outside of the Old City) is where those events took place.  I found the church merely to be a place of rituals and religion.  And I was more than happy to respectfully stand out of the way along with a few others in our group and just observe the many different people and cultures represented in the church.

Finally, Pastor John informed our group that he had something up his sleeve to get really excited about!  More shopping, y'all!  And, he also promised an unlimited amount of time in this particular store he was taking us to, so that's where we headed off next.  

(By the way, I think I've neglected to tell you that as we traveled all throughout Israel, not only with Geora and Ami, but also with Pastor John and Miss Linda... well, we were basically treated like celebrities!!! Whenever folks saw our group comin'... they rolled out the red carpet and gave us the VIP treatment!)

After a short walk, we arrived at Gianni's store in the Christian Quarter of the Old City... his staff graciously ushered us inside and hurriedly locked the doors behind us and put up the "Closed" sign. Yes, they were actually closing down the store to outsiders so our group could shop at ease privately and unrushed.  They assured us we were free to put down our bags, use their restrooms and enjoy a peaceful shopping experience!  They even served us cold drinks and yummy snacks!  

Gianni's store was filled to the brim with beautiful olive wood trinkets, nativity scenes, cases of amazing locally-made jewelry... and all sorts of stuff that tourists can't seem to get enough of! Mr. Atchley bought a menorah with Jerusalem stamped on the base, and he also bought me a beautiful sterling silver and opal ring with the "grafted in" symbol on it! (read Romans 11)  And just when I thought I'd died and gone to heaven... he surprised me with a gold "grafted in" charm to wear on my gold chain!  I began to cry tears of joy once again! (As if I needed yet another excuse to cry, ha!)  I will treasure these pieces of jewelry for as long as I live!

My beautiful "grafted in" ring!

Eventually, we all found and purchased what we wanted and left the store.  Back outside, we made the long, winding walk through the Old City, passing back into the Muslim Quarter and then briefly through the Jewish Quarter.  No words, y'all.  The sights, sounds and exotic smells of spices are forever engraved in my memory! Mr. Atchley was able to snap a couple photos:

Walking through the Muslim Quarter.
You can see Ami in the bottom right corner with his hands
cupped to his mouth yelling at us NOT to stop and shop!
And then our walk took us through the Jewish Quarter.
We finally made it back out to a wide open space! So pretty!

A section of the Old City wall, near the Jaffa Gate.

We finally exited the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, which was the gate nearest to our hotel.  As we were loading up on the bus, we saw the motorcade belonging to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, driving by!  It was so cool!  

(And yes, I was the big-haired lunatic with the smeared mascara that was waving frantically and yelling "Heeey, Netanyahu!!!" as they drove past our bus!)  Y'all... Mr. Atchley was totally mortified and may have died right on the spot, ha ha!

But in all seriousness, y'all... how in the world was I ever going to be able to leave this place?  The time was drawing near, and I absolutely hated the thought of saying goodbye to this land and these people I'd grown to love so deeply.

This view...
Burned in my memory... forever!

Up next: We visit the house of Caiaphas (St. Peter in Gallicantu), the town of John the Baptist (Ein Karem)... and not only did we see it... but we were able to experience the Garden Tomb.  

And just in case you're wondering... 


YESthe tomb is EMPTY!!!  Please, come back to read all about our favorite experience during our trip to Israel!!!  With Easter quickly approaching... there's no better time to read about and also see photos of the place where my Jesus conquered death, hell and the grave... forever!


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